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Gunmen blow up Egypt-Israel gas pipeline for fourth time this year

Attacks blamed on Bedouin who 'probably did it to spite the government' over economic marginalisation and police brutality.

Bedouins watch as smoke and flames rise into the air after masked gunmen blew up a terminal of the Egyptian natural gas pipeline to Israel and Jordan in El Arish yesterday. AP Photo
Bedouins watch as smoke and flames rise into the air after masked gunmen blew up a terminal of the Egyptian natural gas pipeline to Israel and Jordan in El Arish yesterday. AP Photo

EL ARISH // Masked gunmen blew up a terminal of the Egyptian natural gas pipeline to Israel and Jordan in a pre-dawn attack yesterday, the second attack on the pipeline in as many weeks and the fourth since an toppled President Hosni Mubarak in February.

Yesterday's attack used the same methods as the previous one, Egyptian officials said.

The attackers ordered the guards on duty to leave and then blew up the terminal, starting a huge fire that sent flames shooting into the air and lit up the night sky, according to the officials. There were no casualties, they said.

The terminal is located in the city of El Arish in the northern part of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, about 50 kilometres west of the Israeli border.

No one claimed responsibility for yesterday's explosion, but disgruntled Bedouin tribesmen in the area have been blamed for attacking the pipeline in the past. Islamists opposed to Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel have also been suspected.

Later yesterday, Israel's infrastructure minister, Uzi Landau said the attacks on the pipeline could threaten Egypt-Israel relations.

"This was an anchor, perhaps the most important element of our peace agreement with Egypt from an economic perspective and it is slowly, slowly eroding," he told Israel radio. He said Israel had other sources of energy and that consumers were not expected to face disruptions.

Israel receives about 40 per cent of its gas from Egypt, and the latest bombing may further strain relations between the countries, said Moustafa El Husseini, an independent Egyptian analyst and author. Shareholders of East Mediterranean Gas plan to take legal action against Egypt, seeking more than US$8 billion in (Dh29bn) damages for the interruptions, Nimrod Novik, an EMG board member, said yesterday.

The price of electricity in Israel could rise by 20 per cent as the country shifts to diesel and other more expensive fuels because of the supply outage, Mr Landau said. Israel Electric said it is prepared to use alternative fuels to replace Egyptian gas, in the statement to the stock exchange.

Guil Bashan, an energy analyst at IBI-Israel Brokerage and Investments in Tel Aviv, said: "After four explosions this year, the decision-makers in Israel don't have any choice. As long as there is no regime in Egypt strong enough to stop the sabotage, Israel has to rely on its traditional fuels like coal, heavy oil and diesel."

Gas from Israel's Tamar field in the Mediterranean Sea will not be available until 2013.

The latest attack underscores the tension between Egyptian authorities and Sinai's Bedouin population, which has complained of economic marginalisation and police brutality since Egypt regained control of the region from Israel in 1982, Mr El Husseini said

"The attackers probably did it to spite the government," he said yesterday. "Egyptian governments have been dealing with Sinai Bedouin as spies to Israel, not as citizens."

* Bloomberg News with additional reporting from Associated Press